The 30th Belgrade Jazz Festival, 24-27 October 2014

logoThe 30th Belgrade Jazz Festival (24-27 October 2014),  organised and produced by Dom Omladine Beograda,  was a sell out festival, notable for its young, enthusiastic audiences and imaginative programming from Serbia, Europe, Africa and the USA.   The festival was established in 1971 as a mirror of the Newport Jazz Festival of that year. Subsequent years saw the development of the Newport-Beograd Jazz Festival and then the fully fledged Belgrade Jazz Festival.   The fall of communism caused a hiatus in festivals from 1991 until 2005 when the current organisers drew up lists of artists they wanted to see and rebuilt the festival so successfully that it has been accepted by the European Jazz Network, the first Serbian festival to be accepted.  Past programmes read like a Who’s Who of Jazz – Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock. Try to find a world class artist who has not appeared here!  This year’s theme was Jazz All Stars,  and the tireless organisers Marko Stojanovic, Voja Pantic,  and Dragan Ambrozic laid on a feast of Serbian rising stars to complement heavyweights from the USA, – Charles Lloyd (with his Wild Man Dance Suite), David Binney, John Patitucci, Brian Blade –  and introduced me to new talent such as Jacob Anderskov  from Denmark, whose almost classical set was very moving.

Something we could learn from – the Festival organisers, the Belgrade Youth Centre, have deliberately pitched pricing to be affordable to students and people on average wages.  The result was halls full of young people, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  And workshops where students learn from masters and chat over drinks in the foyers and in late night jam sessions.

Petar Krstajić Belgrade
Petar Krstajić, image by kind permission of Tim Dickeson

What were my highlights?   Most notable was the young bass player Petar Krstajić, who has won a place at Berklee.  He started life as a pianist and at 19 has only been playing bass for five years.  Yet his beautiful duo of Ola Maria by Jobim with Vasil Hadžimanov was quite unforgettable for its delicacy. He’s already played with Shai Maestro, now he can add David Binney to his cv.  Such is the kudos of this Festival that young musicians are fast tracked in their careers.

Paolo Fresu
Paolo Fresu, image by kind permission of Tim Dickeson

Another highlight was Paolo Fresu Quintet, also celebrating its 30th year together  – his stance reminding me of a Botticelli trumpeter in a fresco. The skilful blending of trumpet and clarinet and reverb created a dizzy sound, intoxicating and disorienting.   The audience loved it.

And the festival experience?  The scheduling was perfect – no rushing from venue to venue. Time for drinks and chats, and enjoyable times with Igor Mišković whose gig I am sorry we missed. The venues were comfortable and spacious, the sound was excellent.   Don’t speak the language? It didn’t really matter – everyone was keen to try out their excellent English. Long lunches (including a particularly beautiful one on a floating restaurant on the Danube)  and late nights left little time for sightseeing, so guaranteeing we will return.  Belgrade is an interesting city, its past only just beneath the surface. Its people are its greatest attraction, strikingly attractive and eager to share their experiences. Go next year, you won’t be disappointed, this is an important festival that deserves our attention.

Concert review: The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, The Parabola, 5 July 2014

Moogs
Moogs

There was a very excited buzz in The Parabola last night – ten Moogs on stage, of varying sizes and instinctively you knew, of different temperaments, from the tiny Roland SH09 to the wedge shaped Korg MS20 and the archetypal Moog, the mini Moog ( illustrated).  Their oscillators so sensitive that the mere opening of a door which causes the temperature to drop a millionth of  a degree is enough to make them stop working.   The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, led by the composer Will Gregory (half of Goldfrapp) gave us two hours of great fun but also poignancy. They warmed us up with Handel’s Bourrée, just enough to get our ears attuned. Then Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3 delivered at high speed like a giant fairground organ. But they hadn’t really got going yet.

Will explained you can sequence the Moogs – hands appeared to be lifted off the keyboards, just  a few knobs were twiddled and we had a premiere Carry on Noise Box, which ended up as techno with layers of white noise. By this time a small group in the gallery were dancing and the rest of us smiling with glee.  Then what else but some Burt Bacharach to ease us to the interval?   We’d had fun, we’d experienced wails, howls and pulsating rhythms. It all felt, well, very human. These were not machines being controlled by musicians, the Moogs had won us over with the breadth of emotions they displayed from sheer joy and bounce to deep, gut tingling throbs.

It was worth coming back for The Service of Tim Henman , through-composed by Will to a film about the tennis player. But nothing could have prepared me for this extraordinary work – a slow motion film which covered just a few seconds of a game but shown in very very slow motion.   It enabled us to slip inside the soul of Tim Henman through his steady gaze and cool eyes, to experience the loneliness of being on court, of the aggression you have to feel to win, and the desolation at a poor shot.  The score emphasised the pounding energy of tennis, the brutal nature of combat where you have no time to reflect on a victory but must plan the next move, and the next until you win.  Or lose. I do not know how the game ended, the camera in Henman’s face as he left the court seemed impertinent, we’d experienced so much with him.   And who would have thought that Moogs could do that?

John Law

Concert review: John Law’s New Congregation, The Forge, 15 June 2014

An afternoon of gothic horror and glockenspiels at The Forge Camden from a powerhouse trio embellished with a caramel-toned saxophonist.   That would be my Twitter review.

If John Law’s recent Boink! project felt like a work in progress, this New Congregation is fully formed and the new album These Skies In Which We Rust eagerly awaited.   For those of us who struggle with change in favourite bands, the loss of the mercurial Asaf Sirkis is more than compensated by the quietly brooding figure of Laurie Lowe on percussion.  And as always, there is the poised, focussed bass of Yuri Goloubev whose arco playing stops your heart.

We heard the trio in the first set with the bonus of Josh Arcoleo in the second (who made light work of a tricky time signature in Lucky 13), and together they introduced us to eleven compositions, many of whom will become old favourites for their catchiness (Set Theory, 789 )  or because they haul you up short – the jagged, stabbing, tumbling horror of Incarnadine Day,  the wry humour of To do Today: to Die.

In lesser hands, the electromagnetic pulses from outer space, the battery of keyboards, the fiddling with iPad, an Ibo drum,  the snatches of vocals, the bits of Brahms, the changes in mood and emotion through the concert would feel unsettling or gimmicky.  But not here, they are satisfying, fluent, glimpses of what promises to be a very good album indeed.  An extremely enjoyable afternoon.

If you would like to support this project, John Law’s New Congregation These Skies in Which We Rust, (and I recommend that you do) you can do so here.

Mary James 16 June 2014

Album review: Nick Mulvey: First Mind (released May 2014)

Nick MulveyJust a few weeks ago at Cheltenham Jazz Festival I held my breath as Nick Mulvey stood at the edge of stage, hesitating for what seemed like ages, gazing out at the packed Arena, before giving us a heartfelt performance, one of the highlights of my festival.   Was he remembering his last visit to Cheltenham, his final performance with Portico Quartet when we gasped, convulsed in sadness, as we learned he was leaving the band?   Or was it simply that the beautiful personal lyrics he was about to sing required stillness?

In this stunning debut album, First Mind,  the gentle hang player of Portico has emerged out of his chrysalis, a fully fledged troubadour with a pleasing, light, unforced voice and a rich song book.  Add to this his breathtaking guitar and layers of delicate instrumentation with synths and mellotrons and you have perfection. There is nothing showy here,  the beauty of each composition requiring you to reflect on it, like a poem.  So many influences crowd in, but never overwhelming each composition – take the subtle Beach Boy /Brian Wilson/God Only Knows feel to the title track First Mind.   And English folk song in  Ailsa Craig,  with shades of Nick Drake.  A chill goes through me when I hear the line in Venus:

To the calling of the morning,  yes, the falling lovers leap

A nine-eleven reference?  A searing image.  An outstanding track with its Botticelli image, sadness and heartbeat.

This album touches me deeply with its maturity, dreaminess and gentleness.  See Nick in performance if you can, but savour the album quietly on your own too, and discover its depth.

★★★★★

All songs written by Nick Mulvey

Nick Mulvey

Mary James 26 May 2014

Album review: Kevin Seddiki and Bijan Chemirani: Imaginarium (2013)

Kevin Seddiki and Bijan ChemiraniYou may well be captivated by a few words on the sleeve notes of the album Imaginarium by Kevin Seddiki and Bijan Chemirani:

“Kevin Seddiki and Bijan Chemirani may not share the same parents, but they belong to the same family of roaming musicians, with no fixed abode, who have cast off those things that tie us down to one place.  Always looking to connect with others, they know that when the time comes to leave one another, they will always meet up again.”

You will instantly connect with this beautiful album by guitarist Kevin Seddiki and percussionist Bijan Chemirani.  These are troubadours with pedigree.  Seddiki has played with Al di Meola, bandoneonist Dinu Saluzzi and won the prestigious European Guitar Award in Dresden in 2009.  Chemirani comes from a family of outstanding percussionists and singers from Iran (who settled in France in the 1960s).  They have worked together since 2007, starting with a project called Oneira (a dream) in which each artist combined tradition with their own backgrounds and travels.

So perhaps it was inevitable that this new project would build on that experience –  the title Imaginarium gives you a clue – here are exotic places, sunlit coasts, romantic train journeys, planets, tragic operas. You are free to roam in your mind, transported by the most delicate sounds and rhythms that are half familiar if you have ever travelled in North Africa,  the Middle East or West Africa. Here are stringed and percussion instruments with wonderful names like zarb, udu, daff and saz and equally gorgeously heady sounds and trance-like rhythms which rise, fall and move with the sinuous grace of a dancer.  Their shared background in classical music and open minded embrace of other traditions, gently mixed with some subtle electronics,  makes for a rich combination –  like a persian rug or medieval tapestry. They deserve to be better known in the UK for their supreme artistry on interesting instruments, their glorious melodies and the sheer joy they exhibit in their performance – it is captivating and absorbing.

This is a deeply satisfying, dazzling and quite magical experience, and not just for dreaming.  You will want to go travelling…

  •  Kevin Seddiki, classical, folk and 12 string guitars, zarb and percussion
  • Bijan Chemirani, zarb, udu, daff, saz and other percussion
  • Kevin Seddiki
  • Bijan Chemirani

 

random thoughts about music that matters to me

Phil Wain

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random thoughts about music that matters to me

random thoughts about music that matters to me

random thoughts about music that matters to me

random thoughts about music that matters to me

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